The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, p.29Heather O'Neill
When Nicolas put the elastic around his head, I realized that this operation was completely out of his league. Nicolas’s art of thievery resided in his ability to rob places that would simply never occur to anyone else on earth.
“How do you know how to rob a bank?”
“Jean-Pierre’s dad was a security guard there for fifteen years.”
Nicolas gestured to the back seat. I looked. The rabbit waved at me. I turned back.
“Where did you find him?”
“He ran away from home. His dad always gives him a hard time because he can’t pass English or he thinks he’s gay. One or the other. He worked at the bank himself last summer. The whole thing’s organized.”
“Is that what you call an inside man?”
“I don’t know. Is it? Who cares? Let’s focus.”
“The Caisse populaire was invented for people in a serious time of need,” a boy in the cow mask said from the back seat. “Now we the people have determined this to be the hour of our need. Now we the people are about to make a withdrawal.”
I stopped the van outside the bus terminal. I pulled the keys out of the ignition.
Was this the shitstorm of Nicolas that Raphaël had warned me was coming? Raphaël had had the right idea to get out of this crazy city. He had dragged me out and I had snuck off in the middle of the night to get back. How I longed to be in a small house in the middle of the country, turning the flashlight on and off in case there was some sad alien life form stuck up in his spaceship, afraid to come down. It seemed downright quaint.
“Did it ever occur to you that everything in an operation of this manner is exceedingly fine-tuned? You are disturbing the delicate balance.”
Nicolas took his mask off and got out of the van and came around and stood in front of me. The others all took their masks off too and tossed them in the back of the van.
“You’re going to end up in jail. This is crazy.”
“How’s it going to look if I have my pregnant sister giving me advice on the street corner? I’m nervous enough already. All I’m asking God for right now is that I don’t have to take a shit in the middle of the robbery.”
“You think you can’t get away from this but you can. We can just go for dumplings and forget about it. Like everybody else in the city.”
“I want to prove that I’m responsible enough to see my son. And if I have to rob a bank and bring the money in a duffle bag and throw it down in front of Saskia, then that’s what I’m going to do.”
“This isn’t about Pierrot! This is still you screaming, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me. Je suis l’enfant terrible.’“
“Enough with the philosophizing, okay?”
“I was gone for two weeks and you went ahead and concocted this elaborate plan to ruin your entire life.”
“You know, Nouschka, when you’re not around, I don’t just sit on the bed like a dog waiting for you to get home. I get up to stuff.”
“Are you trying to get my attention? Because if so, then you can consider yourself successful, because you most certainly do have my attention.”
“Why on earth would this be about you?”
“Why are you so angry?”
“I’m not angry.” He started smashing his hands against the hood of the van. “I’m not angry! I’m not motherfucking angry! I’m not angry!”
He stood and looked at me.
“All right, maybe I’m a little bit angry. But in half an hour, I’m going to be rich and angry. Which is a step above being broke and angry. Just wait for me inside and I’ll come meet you when it’s all over.”
“You don’t have to get in that van. You are my brother and I love you more than anything and I don’t want you to do this.”
Nicolas looked like he didn’t know what to say to this. A man walked past us and got into his car. As he turned on the ignition, music started blaring from his car radio. Nicolas started moving his body around to it. He started mouthing the words to the song, singing to the man in the car, who was trying hard to ignore him. He started clapping his arms in the air above his head and swinging his hips around in circles. Nicolas was the centre of the universe right at that moment.
All the boys had gathered at the window of the van to watch Nicolas once again making a glorious ass of himself. There was nothing that I could say. He was off to prove that the earth was round and that we were all morons for saying he was going to go too far and fall off of it.
He didn’t seem to realize that the party was over. That everyone had gone home and was doing other things. Maybe he didn’t have a life to go home from the party to.
“You’re a pervert just like your dad,” the man said from the window of his car as he drove off.
“Whoo-hoo!” Nicolas yelled.
The music drove off, and Nicolas suddenly sobered up. He turned to the van, opened the driver’s door and climbed in.
“My gorgeous sister will not be joining us tonight.”
He looked ahead over the steering wheel. A dark look had come over his face. He smoothed his hair back. He motioned for everyone to sit back in their spots and put their masks on. He looked at me in a way I couldn’t say anything to. It shocked me. He had suddenly turned a little dangerous.
“Let’s go, les gars!” Nicolas said.
He pulled his giraffe mask over his face and the mask had its effect. I had no idea who in the fucking world he was. A mask is a face wiped clean of love. Not even God could recognize him.
I walked through the glass doors and went into the bus terminal to wait. I passed the sad-looking diner with silver tables. I went to sit on the orange plastic chairs that had television sets attached to them. My belly was practically touching the television set. I put a quarter in the television, but there were just politicians talking about the referendum results. There was nothing worse than waiting in places where people are meant to wait. Especially at that age. I had no patience for anything.
Maybe he would never come back to me. Maybe I would sit here until I was a little old lady.
I prayed. I wasn’t interested in wishes. I prayed that Nicolas would come back to me. I prayed that Nicolas would come back to me. I prayed that Nicolas would come back to me. I prayed that all the magic of Boulevard Saint-Laurent would still be on his side. God does what he wants to with our prayers. All we can do is send them without an address.
I put my hands on my belly. I looked like any other person looking around and waiting for someone they loved to step off the Greyhound bus. All the girls with their ponytails done up prettily and their most becoming dresses. The ones that they wore when they wanted to look good but like they hadn’t tried to at all.
There were so many people with their heads held back, wishing on the first star that came out at night. There was, generally, on average, only one star that you could make out because of all the light boxes with advertisements painted on them. But I asked that overextended star to look over Nicolas right now.
When he came through the doors, I was so shaken up that I couldn’t even feel the fear anymore. The way that sounds are so high-pitched that you can’t even hear them.
His face was flushed and he was carrying a medium-sized blue leather suitcase. He dropped it down beside me. His hands were trembling as he took a gold pack of cigarettes out of his pocket and kept trying to take one out, but his fingers were shaking too much. I didn’t even know what to say.
“Is the money in that suitcase?”
He nodded and leaned back. He was a wreck. He handed me the pack of cigarettes. I took one out and lit it and stuck it in his mouth. I decided not to ask anything about the robbery, until he’d calmed down.
“What kind of cigarettes are these?” I asked.
“I don’t know. We told everyone to empty their pockets and some jackass tossed in a pack of cigarettes.”
“It has Russian letters on it. He probably bought them in another country.”
“Was it scary?”
“There was this old guy in line who passed out. I think he was having a heart attack. He had an envelope with his social assistance cheque. I took it out of the bag and told him, ‘Relax, I’m leaving your envelope right next to you. I’m not even taking a cent out of it. Nothing’s worth worrying about, mon oncle.’ Jesus. Having a heart attack over a couple hundred dollars that the bank will replace. That scared me.”
He threw the cigarette onto the ground and then leaned forward with his head in his hands. He stopped moving for a second, as if he was about to puke. Then he inhaled deeply and looked at me with a red face.
“Let’s do something,” he said, getting up.
I followed him like a scared child. He asked to check his bag at the bus station for two nights. He paid ten dollars. He put it under the name Monsieur Guillaume Ladamoiselle. As soon as we stepped out of the bus terminal, he stopped in his tracks.
“I’m never going to remember that fucking name. Why did I come up with such a stupid name?”
“How can we possibly forget a name like that?”
“Because it seems obvious now, but after a night of drinking it won’t be.”
“I’m pregnant. I’m not going to be drinking.”
“You’re half-mad with missing your lunatic boyfriend.”
We stopped at a poutine restaurant. We just sat there for twenty minutes, not saying anything. When the police didn’t barge through the restaurant door, we ordered food.
Nicolas and I were always chasing that first gravy high. At the grocery store we would buy packages with a sexy chicken with eyelashes on the wrapper. But gravy just didn’t taste as good anymore. That night, however, the fries and gravy seemed to taste the way that they did when we were seven.
As we walked down the street we realized that we were going to get away with it. Why had I ever doubted him? We weren’t going to grow old. We weren’t ever going to feel any regrets. What on earth could change that? Not hurricanes. Not volcanoes. Anything seemed possible.
The sun began to set. The water of the river got all gold and shimmering. Maybe there was enough money in that suitcase to buy Pierrot’s love. Then we would truly be millionaires.
Raise High the Washing Machines, Strongmen!
WE WENT BACK TO LOULOU’S TOGETHER. WHERE else was there to go in order to feel safe, other than home?
Sometimes after I hadn’t been home for a period of time, I was always taken aback by how filthy the place was. Everything in the apartment seemed to have been inhaling cigarette smoke. If you sat on the couch, it might let out a cough. The flowers on it looked wilted and their petals had all turned black around the edges.
Loud noises of pots and pans hitting each other were coming from the kitchen. They sounded like cymbals being smashed at the end of jokes. When I walked in the kitchen, Loulou started organizing store-bought cookies on a tray. A fat white cat walked down the side of the fridge like wax dripping down the side of a candle.
Loulou was wearing a shaggy yellow sweater that looked like it had been made out of endangered teddy bears. What was left of his thin white hair was sticking straight up, as if the rest of it had been blown away like a dandelion’s down. He turned toward me and put his index finger up to his lips.
“Be quiet, you’ll wake the twins up. That’s all I need. Them coming out in their pyjamas, saying they want some milk, they want an apple, they want me to turn the television back on. They won’t leave me alone until I give them a spanking and then I’m going to be the criminal.”
There was a small parcel on the table. It was wrapped awkwardly in blue paper. There was a bow stuck on top of it. I picked it up and looked at him.
“I got that for Nouschka. I slapped her on the back of her head because I caught her sucking the whipped cream out of the tube. But she gave me such a sad little look, I went and got her something. She’s going to be so happy. She’s been asking for that for a long time.”
I looked at the box. It was heartbreaking. Whatever I wanted most as a child was inside that box. I had no idea what it could be. I didn’t want to open it. I couldn’t open it. How could you compare what you had really wanted with what you had? The shock of it might make you old immediately.
Nicolas walked into the kitchen in a pair of jeans with the belt undone, stretching his arms up in the air.
“Loulou, those cookies look awesome.”
Loulou recognized Nicolas. His gaze leapt toward me. He was completely confused. He couldn’t understand how he had lost fifteen years in a few seconds. How on earth were we full-grown? He looked horrified. Then he looked embarrassed, because he didn’t want to admit that something had just happened that was utterly beyond his comprehension.
Nicolas put a cookie in his mouth as he opened the fridge. Beer bottles trembled in the door, like kids lined up for the diving board. He poured himself a glass of milk. He and Loulou stared at each other, not saying anything. Nicolas was in the quiet lull left behind by adrenaline and self-destructiveness. And Loulou probably knew deep down that there was nothing he could do for Nicolas anymore. The disconnect that had grown between them was apparent right now.
Up until 1932, unpasteurized milk weeded out the weak. Only the strongest little babies survived in Québec. The greatest strongmen in history were born in Québec at the beginning of the century. They swallowed boiled eggs whole. They lifted washing machines over their heads. They attached buses to their belts and walked down the street. Louis Cyr was the strongest man who ever lived and once lifted eighteen men on his back. Once milk became pasteurized, poets were able to live past three months. They were all over Montréal with their pale skin and giant eyes. The poets and the strongmen never had any idea what to make of one another.
The Nicolas Tremblay Variations
WE WERE AWOKEN BY A POUNDING ON THE FRONT door. It was the loudest knock in the world. I’m surprised that the whole building didn’t come down. It was as if they were banging with hammers. Nicolas and I woke up so violently, it was as if we had never been awake before. As if we had just been delivered from the womb and were shocked by our arms and legs. We didn’t know how to stand or laugh or count to ten. Only the police ever knock on a door like that. Everyone knows that.
Nicolas leapt up, like one of those worms from a peanut brittle can. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion, the way it does when you are falling off a chair. But Nicolas was achieving incredible feats in small increments of time. He had his clothes and boots on and he had stuffed his money in his pockets.
He tried to jump out our bedroom window, but when he saw cops waiting for him right outside it, he leapt back in. I even saw some police officer’s arm reach into the window and try to catch Nicolas’s foot.
There were police officers everywhere. They had surrounded the building. It was five o’clock in the morning. That’s when they always had raids. Right when thieves were in the farthest realms of their dreams.
Nicolas tore through the house screaming. He went out the kitchen window and up the fire escape and into the upstairs neighbour’s window. I guess he figured that he could shimmy up the fire escape and over the rooftops and escape the law the way he escaped from girls he had had sex with. His boots going up and down the stairs were making the sounds of children playing a manic clapping game. He was running in and out of doors like a ball in a pinball machine, waking people up. They came out into the hallways as if they could help him. They were going to be bone-tired. All day it would feel as if there were a little hole somewhere in themselves that sand was slowly draining out of.
The police caught Nicolas on the third floor.
I was looking up the stairwell. I ran back into the apartment and down the hallway to the bedroom, searching for anything incriminating. I saw the gold pack of cigarettes on the night table. I snatched them up, but as I turned, a police officer walked right i
“Hand those over, Nouschka, sweetie.”
A cat peeked out from behind the curtain like an emcee wondering if now was the right time to begin the show.
Loulou had quickly put on his best clothes so that he could show the police that we were clean-living people. He came out of the apartment with a framed photo of Nicolas and me when we were babies.
“Weren’t they cute?” Loulou asked one of the police officers pleadingly. “They’re good kids. They have good natures. They’re just always in with bad crowds. They were on the radio with their father. Do you remember?”
“Sure. Sure. I know who you all are.”
A news van was pulling up on the scene.
“He was such a sweet, talented little guy,” Loulou persisted.
At that moment, two officers escorted Nicolas out of the building. He was sort of making a fuss, but his heart wasn’t in it. Every now and then he would jerk his arms. He wasn’t actually trying to get away. He kept throwing his head back as if he was desperate to get his bangs out of his eyes. Maybe he knew that this was his last time to look tough. The law always makes an ass out of you. We knew that from Étienne’s fiasco.
Nicolas’s goose had already been cooked the night before.
The old man who had a heart attack had been taken immediately to the hospital. In the ambulance on the way, he began to slip away. As he was being bounced by the potholes, the old man uttered his last magical words. The paramedics leaned forward to hear what he was saying.
“It is okay. Le petit Nicolas was at the bank and he told me that everything was going to be okay. He got my envelope back for me. My wife is just going to go crazy knowing that I met him … He was so nice to me. Il était tellement mignon quand il était petit!”
We didn’t know any of this at the moment. We had no idea how the police knew that Nicolas had robbed the Caisse populaire. We didn’t know why I wasn’t in handcuffs too.
A reporter ran up and put a microphone in Nicolas’s mouth.
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes